SWIFT GEN­ER­A­TIONS

For over a decade and through three gen­er­a­tions the Swift, whether by de­sign or ac­ci­dent, has thrilled the en­thu­si­ast – in­clud­ing the editor. He recalls his ex­pe­ri­ences of buy­ing one, ral­ly­ing one, driv­ing across the country in one and now liv­ing with th

Evo India - - CONTENTS -

A look at the evo­lu­tion of In­dia’s favourite hatch­back

I BOUGHT A SWIFT. MY PEERS IN OTHER mag­a­zines bought Swifts. And that tells you ev­ery­thing you need to know about the Swift. When a jour­nal­ist puts his money where his mouth is, that’s the ul­ti­mate rec­om­men­da­tion, and back in the day the Swift re­ally was a game changer. In these days of TSI Po­los and Boost­er­jet Balenos this might sound silly but, in 2005, if you wanted a fun-to-drive hatch the only op­tion was the Zen, which I had al­ready been driv­ing for the past five years. Oh, there was the Getz that had just been launched but nei­ther the styling, nor the mo­tor, dy­nam­ics or even pric­ing made us smile. Nope, there re­ally was noth­ing like the Swift and soon af­ter it was launched I went out and booked one.

You’re the fuel

I still re­mem­ber the first me­dia drive of the Swift. It was a pe­riod of great tur­moil at Over­drive, the mag­a­zine I started my ca­reer at. There was a new editor, I had just been pro­moted to sec­ond in com­mand, and it was our first me­dia drive in our new big-boy shoes. Those were also the days when Mane­sar wasn’t the bustling in­dus­trial hub that it is to­day and our drive was re­stricted to the de­serted roads of the in­dus­trial com­plex. It’s hard to imag­ine wrap­ping up a shoot be­fore break­fast what with photo, video, so­cial me­dia and what not these days but back then the Maruti PR peo­ple were so para­noid about the Swift be­ing papped (by com­pe­ti­tion I’m guess­ing cause there were no car blogs), they made us wrap up our drive, test­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy, ev­ery­thing by 7 in the morn­ing. But that drive was enough to con­vince me to buy it.

You see the con­cept of a pre­mium hatch­back did not ex­ist back then. Heck, till the Santro and the rest of the new small cars ar­rived, the Zen was a pre­mium hatch­back. Hatch­backs were meant to be af­ford­able, any driv­ing plea­sure they de­liv­ered was purely ac­ci­den­tal. But with the Swift, fun-to-drive was front and cen­tre. It got the Es­teem’s 1.3-litre mo­tor that, even to­day, is sweet as heck. It loved to rev and en­joyed scream­ing to­wards its red­line. The gear­box had sweet and short throws. The chas­sis was a de­light. And it did jus­tice to that me­morable ‘You’re the fuel’ tag line.

In 2005 ride qual­ity wasn’t a very big deal and though the Zen had got tall and skinny tyres to rem­edy some of its ride short­com­ings, Maruti’s en­gi­neers weren’t all that ob­sessed with ride qual­ity. Fuel ef­fi­ciency, yes. Ride, not so much. In con­se­quence the Swift han­dled re­ally well. There was no float and bounce while body roll was sur­pris­ingly limited. Al­lied to the hy­draulic steer­ing, four-square foot­print, stiff sus­pen­sion and low seat­ing po­si­tion, the Swift was an ab­so­lute hoot to drive. There was an ea­ger­ness and ex­cite­ment to the chas­sis that noth­ing, this side of a Honda City could match. And the seats were bet­ter than the Honda City, the bench­mark for ev­ery­thing back then.

Age has done noth­ing to mel­low its ea­ger­ness. The red Swift we’re driv­ing here is show­ing lit­tle more than 80 thou­sand kilo­me­tres, sur­pris­ingly lit­tle for a car this old, and that’s prob­a­bly why it feels quite tight. Af­ter a few gin­ger kilo­me­tres, with the brakes and steer­ing re­spond­ing quite well, I give the G-Se­ries mo­tor the beans and am sent back to an age be­fore emis­sion norms and fuel ef­fi­ciency re­quire­ments started throt­tling out­puts. The Suzuki 4-cylin­der mo­tor revs so beau­ti­fully, and I say this in the present day con­text.

To­day’s en­gines just do not rev as ea­gerly and ex­cit­edly. It also feels quick and the chas­sis is planted and sta­ble with quite an ea­ger front end. Driven with se­ri­ous vigour the Swift did have a bit of lift-off over­steer though that’s best not re-dis­cov­ered on a 13-year-old car.

Dis­cov­er­ing all that is prob­a­bly why my Swift, which we sold af­ter six years, felt con­sid­er­ably worse for wear. But of course the main rea­son was the tyre up­size. First thing I did af­ter buy­ing the car was slap on 15-inch rims with 215-sec­tion tyres. It looked awe­some but all that weight slowed the car down re­quir­ing in­take and ex­haust work to free up some horses while the al­ready not-so-great ride was ut­terly ru­ined. Which meant reg­u­lar upgrades to the music sys­tem to drown out the rattles and squeaks.

I didn’t take my Swift on any driv­ing ad­ven­tures, but driv­ing ad­ven­tures we had in plenty with the Swift. We took it to the Rann of Kutch, cre­ated a sort of dirt race track with a JCB and set a lap time in the un­like­li­est of places. In 2006 I took it to the Raid-de-Hi­malaya and fin­ished sec­ond in the Re­li­a­bil­ity cars cat­e­gory, but not be­fore we blew both the rear dampers on the Kaza stage and limped to Leh where parts had to be air­lifted for us. It was the Swift’s first mo­tor­sport out­ing in In­dia and I can proudly say I was the first to take it to a podium fin­ish. The more im­por­tant award came a few months later when the Swift lifted the in­au­gu­ral In­dian Car of the Year, which it won unan­i­mously and by an over­whelm­ing mar­gin.

A huge part of the Swift’s ini­tial ap­peal to us en­thu­si­asts was the G13BB mo­tor, a mo­tor so strong that tuners around the country slapped tur­bos on to it. The first turbo-Swift I drove was former rally champ Vikram Mathais’ car built by Red Rooster Per­for­mance in Ban­ga­lore and that thing just flew. Imag­ine 50 per cent more power with the same weight. Full throt­tle in first gear was a use­less ex­er­cise, the wheels would just spin to glory. Full throt­tle in sec­ond gear also

WHEN A JOUR­NAL­IST PUTS HIS MONEY WHERE HIS MOUTH IS,

THAT’S THE UL­TI­MATE REC­OM­MEN­DA­TION

de­liv­ered alarm­ing wheel­spin. But the mid-range was in­sane. When it came on boost the thing ac­cel­er­ated like a beast. And with the hooli­gan-spec ex­haust and blow-off valves it sounded like a turbo rally car ready to smoke a stage. Even to­day there are a fair few of these turbo’d Swifts run­ning around what with parts for the G13 be­ing cheap and in abun­dance, and they’ll eas­ily smoke a Polo GT TSI and Baleno RS. Just don’t ask about emis­sions or fuel econ­omy.

Of course the turbo’d Swift that we are all fa­mil­iar with, the one that took Swift sales into the strato­sphere, was the 1.3-litre diesel. This mo­tor, sourced from Fiat, marked the be­gin­ning of the in­ex­orable march to­wards diesels. To keep the head­line price in check Maruti did not of­fer the diesel in the top-spec vari­ant and, with the weedy 165-sec­tion tyres, this lit­tle diesel Swift mer­rily spun its wheels on any­thing less than proper grippy tar­mac. Again, back in the day, there didn’t ex­ist a small car with a small diesel en­gine that you’d drive will­ingly and hap­pily – and no I did not for­get the horrible Zen D with the TUD5 diesel. The Swift diesel was truly ex­cel­lent, even with the turbo lag, and the mo­tor is so good it con­tin­ues to this very day with only tweaks for emis­sion com­pli­ance. Udaipur to Udaipur

In 2011 we had this crazy idea. Pick up the sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion Swift from the launch event at Udaipur, drive it across the breadth of our country to Guwahati where it will be joined by all its seg­ment ri­vals and drive all six cars down to Udaipur – the one in Tripura with a lake palace in­spired by the Ra­jasthani Udaipur’s. It was a crazy idea but back then Over­drive was all about the crazy ideas; just a year prior we did a small car com­par­i­son test in… Ladakh. I did the launch test drive in Udaipur, met Anirud­dha and Byram at Udaipur

THE DIESEL WAS SO GOOD IT STILL CAR­RIES ON TO­DAY WITH ONLY TWEAKS FOR EMIS­SIONS

COM­PLI­ANCE

air­port and caught up with them three days later in Guwahati. They still curse me for pulling off a fast one, not that the drive down to Tripura from Guwahati was any less ar­du­ous than cross­ing UP, Bi­har and West Ben­gal. Re­mem­ber, seven years ago the G-Quad ex­isted only in bits and bobs. As for roads in the North East, well, the team staged a riot at Agar­tala, re­fus­ing to drive back up to Guwahati and even­tu­ally a truck was or­gan­ised to get the cars back up to civil­i­sa­tion.

At least the Swift had markedly im­proved ride qual­ity, a bless­ing re­ally on those roads. It was the big­gest area of im­prove­ment on the Swift along with the en­gine. Ac­tu­ally I don’t know if you can call the en­gine change an im­prove­ment. Sure fuel ef­fi­ciency and emis­sions did im­prove but the K12 didn’t have the zing of the G13. It still revved but now it needed to be revved even harder to get it go­ing. It was down by 100 cee-cees and it felt it. It didn’t have the strength of the 1.3 which meant tuners didn’t bother with tur­bos on the sec­ond gen and con­tin­ued to work on the first-gen Swift.

To­day we have two pris­tine ex­am­ples of the sec­ond­gen Swift and both feel miles bet­ter than the first in terms of the in­te­ri­ors, the ride, the com­fort and even space and re­fine­ment. In terms of han­dling there is more body roll and the steer­ing is not as sharp but, to be hon­est, it is still fun to drive even if it is a bit lack­ing in the en­gine depart­ment. To the present day

The thing about age is that your waist size in­creases – not just the Swift’s, but your writer’s too. Not a good thing in my case but a good thing for Swift buy­ers be­cause there’s more space in­side the car now. And much like my out­crop of fa­cial hair, the Swift too rocks a grown-up goa­tee. It’s not uni­ver­sally ad­mired – my beard and the Swift’s goa­tee – but beauty is in the eye of the be­holder, no?

With the in­te­ri­ors, there’s noth­ing to com­plain be­cause it is much, much bet­ter than the cars gone by, right up there with the class bench­marks. And the re­fine­ment too is much bet­ter – our test car for the next twelve months is a diesel AMT and there’s very lit­tle of the grat­ing grum­bling for the ven­er­a­ble 1.3 mo­tor (though there is the AMT’s in­nate head-toss which a sen­si­tive right foot can elim­i­nate for the most part).

The big ques­tion though – what’s it like to drive. First let me re­it­er­ate what I said in our first drive. In this seg­ment, with the ex­cep­tion of the Figo S, noth­ing else is as much fun to drive. The steer­ing – now elec­tric and lack­ing in feel – is still quick and ea­ger, the front end re­acts with im­me­di­acy, and most of all that play­ful­ness of the Swift, that abil­ity to slide it around at notridicu­lous speeds, yank the hand­brake and throw it side­ways, ba­si­cally have fun – it’s all still there. Driv­ing it back-to-back with its for­bears re­veals that it also rides

much bet­ter and will make a recre­ation of the Udaipurto-Udaipur drive much less ar­du­ous. But that gen 1 Swift, oh boy, that flat body con­trol, the re­sponse and feed­back from the steer­ing, the zing of the mo­tor, it still puts the widest smile on our faces..

Age has mel­lowed the Swift, its hu­mon­gous pop­u­lar­ity has taken away some of the band-baja that you’d ex­pect an all-new Swift to ar­rive with, and its ri­vals are far more ac­com­plished than 13 years ago. That said, by tick­ing so many of the right boxes, the Swift will con­tinue to sell in eye-pop­ping num­bers. As for buy­ing one, well a lit­tle pa­tience, for I hear a Swift RS is in the pipe­line. ⌧

Top: Evo­lu­tion of the Swift’s cabin. No prizes for guess­ing which is the lat­est and which is the old­est. Be­low: Two years af­ter it was launched the Swift got the diesel en­gine and sales went into Mars’ or­bit. Here are the gen 1 and gen 2 diesels

Young and but also fresh faced the jury – not just of the in­au­gu­ral the first gen In­dian Swif t Car of the Year in 2006

the first the Swift at en­gi­neer of with the chief cor­re­spon­dent in 2005 Your drives In­dian me­dia

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